A new bill proposed in congress by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio clarifies that it is illegal to use illicit drugs to coerce someone into forced labor, which constitutes human trafficking. The bill is called “Protecting Rights Of Those Exploited by Coercive Trafficking Act of 2019” and highlights the growing understanding of the connection between human trafficking and drug abuse. Today legislators are making important strides to reduce the incidence of human and sex trafficking in the U.S.

Statistics on Human Trafficking In the U.S.

Both human trafficking and drug abuse have a long history in urban and rural settings across the U.S. The National Institute of Justice explains that the United Nations defines human trafficking as using kidnapping, manipulation, force or coercion to transport, harbor or receive people. The U.S. Government’s definition of human trafficking includes sex trafficking and slavery.

The 2018 Index for Global Slavery states that, in 2016, 403,000 people in the United States live in a setting that meets the criteria for slavery. Their report further explains that:

  • In 2017, reports were made of 8,524 human trafficking incidents
  • In 2016, the National Human Trafficking Hotline had 5,591 calls related to sex trafficking
  • Victims of sex trafficking may work in hotels, brothels, online, in an escort service or on the street

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime states in their 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Human Persons for North America that:

  • In 2016, 531 people were prosecuted for human trafficking by the Department of Justice
  • In 2016, 436 people were convicted of human trafficking by the Department of Justice
  • In 2017, 4,975 women and 1,136 men were victims of human trafficking, along with over 2,000 children
  • In 2017, 5,104 people were identified as victims of sexual exploitation

People who engage in human trafficking or sex trafficking use various coercion means for recruitment. According to the Polaris Project, which runs the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and hotline, the primary means of coercion include:

  • Romantic situations: 31.51%
  • Acting as a benefactor: 9.93%
  • A job offer: 9.93%
  • Relative or family: 9.59%
  • Kidnapping: 7.19%

The top three risk factors for sex trafficking have been found to be poverty, homelessness and substance abuse.

Proposed New Content to the PROTECT Act

Drug abuse and prostitution are often tied when people use drug addiction as a means of manipulating people into sex work. This proposed legislation adds new content to the PROTECT Act, which became law in 2003.

The PROTECT act instituted new criminal codes that were applied to kidnapping, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and other human trafficking and illegal sexual activities. For example, the PROTECT act instituted compulsory life imprisonment for the federal conviction of sex crimes against a minor. The only exception to a life sentence would be a death sentence.

These measures represent the extreme reaction of lawmakers to provide safety for children and other potential victims of sex abuse. The new legislation represents an expanded understanding of coercion methods used to lure people into trafficking.

Getting Help for Drug Addiction

Human trafficking and drug abuse are serious dynamics that require outside intervention. Help for people who may be victims of sex trafficking can be found through the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or by texting “HELP” to 233733.

Drug abuse and human trafficking can be addressed by relevant laws and the collective efforts of local communities to identify and eradicate illicit activities. If you or someone you know is addicted to drugs, The Recovery Village has multiple resources to help.